Charles Monarch of the dram (Prince of Wales)

Charles Monarch of the dram (Prince of Wales)

Jane Slade traces the Prince of Wales' legendary love of Scotch

People | 16 Nov 2000 | Issue 12 | By Jane Slade

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Prince Charles’ was introduced to alcohol at a rather young age and quite by accident. He was a sea cadet with the naval equivalent of the Territorial Army at Gordonstoun School. It was 1964. He was just 16 years old and on Stornaway Island with some fellow cadets on an exercise. He suddenly became aware of some journalists on his tail and made good his escape by running off and seeking refuge in a pub. The landlord asked him what Charles would like to drink and he ordered a cherry brandy. Unfortunately a journalist was slumped in the seat beside Him. Two days later the story was all over Fleet Street and there was an inevitable and terrible row.

Subsequently it was revealed that cherry brandy was the only alcoholic drink the Prince had come across, gleaned from his time spent on shoots and hunts with his parents’ friends. When He had asked what they were drinking they would pipe up ‘cherry brandy’ - whether they were or not. According to one royal reporter HRH can hardly bring himself to talk about ‘the cherry brandy story’ even now - probably because it is the last drink that would ever pass His lips today. The Prince had obviously been shielded from the somewhat punchier nectar which had been fuelling His family down the centuries. King George IV apparently preferred illicit Glenlivet, Queen Victoria was once observed by Prime Minister Gladstone adding whisky to her
glass of claret and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles’ father, is partial to a dram of Glenfiddich and even paid a visit to the distillery in November 1974 to mark the centenary of the Malt Distillers Association of Scotland. It is a happy coincidence that the royal’s summer residence of Balmoral nudges the Royal Lochnagar Distillery in Scotland. Soon after Queen Victoria ‘moved in’ She and Prince Albert paid a call on the whisky haven in 1848. An anniversary Prince Charles marked 150 years later when He paid an official visit in 1998. “Prince Charles’s visit was very low key,” explained a UDV spokesman, “we didn’t make a song and dance about it.” The Highland nectar is, however, not a favourite with the Prince of Wales. “It is like a Speyside but not so floral,” explains the distillery manager Mike Nicholson. “Like fresh hair or newly mown grass.”When it comes to the Prince’s favourite nectar, it’s a peaty Islay single malt that pours from His hip flask. Whether He is shooting, hunting or skiing He always carries a flask and finds that the smoky kick of Laphroaig or Bruichladdich gives him the necessary boost when HRH is battling through the blizzards in Klosters or riding through the rain with the Beaufort Hunt.His official visit to Laphroaig in 1994 was well documented at the time but the column inches were not filled so much with details of His
fascination with the mash tuns as his unfortunate aeroplane crash. Charles overshot the runway attempting to land His private plane on Islay - this left the plane so badly damaged that He was unable to fly it back home to Highgrove. As a result, what was supposed to be a quick, 20-minute flying visit turned into a two-and-a-half hour extended stay - much to the delight of the distillery manager Iain Henderson, who recalls his visit fondly. “He arrived with his private secretary Richard Ayling and detective Colin Tinning. They were a bit late because of the accident. I took His Royal Highness on a tour of the distillery and He was very impressed with his knowledge. He asked all the right questions and seemed to be enjoying himself. My wife Carole prepared lunch. He had asked for poached salmon, salad and rice dishes. He wanted a buffet because there wasn’t going to be time for a proper sit down. So He walked around with a dram in one hand and a plate in the other. He had asked to meet all the workers and their wives. He seemed genuinely interested in everyone and everything, and then said to me: ‘I think this is a great place. I like the fact that you follow the traditional methods. Do not let anyone change it.’” When a new flying machine eventually arrived the Prince departed in something of a hurry. He was anxious to get back to London to see himself on ‘that confessional interview’ with David Dimbleby, which was being broadcast that same evening. He left with two casks from Laphroaig. The first He donated to the Macmillan Cancer Fund and the second He gave just this year to an appeal for the Erskine Hospital for ex-servicemen in Dumbarton. The Prince personally signed 15 of the 270 bottles simply with His name, ‘Charles’. The first bottle, which He had signed ‘Charles 1999’, was auctioned for a record-breaking £25,000 last May. The whisky was the final lot at the Scottish
Business Achievement Award Trust charity lunch held on the pitch of Ibrox stadium in Glasgow. Johann Viser, the South African chairman of Your More Store pledged the £25,000. As Whisky Magazine went to press, news of an even greater amount looked set to be raised through another auction in aid of the hospital which is being conducted on the British Airways Authority website. The BAA apparently have pledged to match the sum bid for a second HRH signed bottle of Laphroaig. The figure without BAA’s contribution currently stands at £29,000. Since the Prince’s visit to Laphroaig, the distillery now does a special bottling for Highgrove with its own label, which is supplied not only for the Prince’s consumption but also to guests and visitors to His Gloucestershire estate where it can be bought in the Highgrove Shop. “It is a standard bottling,” adds Iain Henderson, “either a 10 or 15-year-old.” But Charles’s very special friends may be offered a dram of 30-year-old Laphroaig - that is if He has any left. The distillery presented Charles with six bottles on the occasion of his 50th birthday last November.The Prince, who naturally is a member of the Laphroaig appreciation society, also awarded the distillery a Royal Warrant. Laphroaig is the only single malt distillery to have received this honour. Prince Charles is not a snob about how He drinks whisky. Although it is unlikely Charles would ever mix it with claret like his great grandmother, He will add a splash of water occasionally but generally prefers it neat. And it is not only on cold winter days that HRH finds it a thirst-quencher. While on a tour of Australia in 1994 He took a break from an exhausting walkabout in Strahan, Tasmania, to share a dram with the landlord of a local hotel. “Waddya gonna have, mate?” hollered Alan Hooper of the Hammer’s Hotel at his royal guest. “I’d like a Scotch if you have it - in particular a Glenfiddich,” the Prince replied, somewhat amused. Hooper poured Charles a triple shot then added ice. The Prince did not even wince as He drank it down. Charles has also tried to promote Scotch on His travels and often presents bottles as gifts to visiting dignitaries. In November 1998 He paid an official visit to Slovenia and opened a British Week promotion in the capital, Ljubljana. There He presented the President Kucan of Slovenia with a bottle of Laphroaig. And the special bottlings sold in the Highgrove Shop are very popular with visiting Americans.

In the past He has faced criticism that neither He nor other members of the Royal Family have done much for Scotland - save incarcerate
themselves in Balmoral Castle for their holidays. But earlier this year Charles took it upon himself to rectify this image and ally himself more closely with the Scots. He addressed the General Assembly, though it probably was not terribly wise of him to confess that he knew Scotland
‘infinitely better’ than any other part of the UK since he is Prince of Wales but he was warmly received by his audience. He may in fact be wise to turn more of his attention to his Princedom: the Welsh are particularly irked that not only does their so-called Prince rarely visit Wales but does not even have a single residence there. In fact He didn’t even spend any of his schooling there - Gordonstoun is in Scotland.The Prince has been concerned about the position of the monarchy north of the border for some time and in 1998 met with the Scottish National Party’s leader Alex Salmond at Balmoral Castle. The only details that have ever been revealed about their meeting was that it was a success and that they shared a few glasses of Scotch. Also, earlier this year, Charles launched the Prince’s Trust Scotland. It was seen as
significant that, by establishing the trust’s Scottish headquarters in Edinburgh, the Prince was giving full recognition to the country’s devolved status. But He has been careful to avoid being used as a marketing tool by the Scotch whisky industry. On the few occasions that He has pronounced on the industry Charles has confined his comments to speeches given at ‘in-house’ functions. For example, in 1996 the Keepers of the Quaich held a dinner in honour of the Prince so that they could award him an honorary membership of the Quaich. There was a sumptuous dinner at Blair Castle attended by such dignitaries as The Duke and Duchess of Atholl, who had flown over especially from their home in South Africa, The Duke and Duchess of Argyll and the Earl and Countess of Erroll - as well as bigwigs from every whisky producing nation. In His speech to the gathering, Charles praised the Scotch whisky industry: “It really does perform a remarkable task, and when you think of the immense export growth that you have achieved it really is, I think, something very special. Your industry is, of course, one of the UKs top five export earners.” In the role of Grand Master for the first time was Michael Jackaman, former chairman of Allied Domecq, who commended the Prince for his support of the Scotch whisky industry and mentioned in his speech the Prince’s membership of the Laphroaig appreciation society and his authorship of The Old Man of Lochnagar. But the Prince is rarely seen downing a dram in public. The occasions He is most likely to be seen enjoying the golden nectar are, very much like the rest of us, quietly in private or with friends. He particularly enjoys the odd nip when He is out hunting with his friends. Journalists spotted him downing no fewer than four quick shots in less than 15 minutes at the opening meet of the season some five years ago.David Broome, former leading showjumper and, now, master of foxhounds, was reported as saying at the time: “Drinking on a hunt is an
important part of the day. It gives riders courage and helps them to obliterate the danger. It’s part of our heritage as well as helping to keep the cold out.” In fact, there is absolutely no question that Scotch is very much an important part of the Prince of Wales' heritage too.
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